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Russia bans driftnet fishing, a reprieve for seabirds and marine mammals

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On July 1, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law banning driftnet fishing in Russian waters.

Driftnets, floating walls of net that are nearly invisible underwater, can be 12 meters high and many kilometers long. They are a kind of gillnet, a mesh that captures fish by the gills, and are primarily used to target large schools of fish. But driftnets are notorious for trapping unintended marine life, including porpoises, dolphins, sea turtles, and an estimated 400,000 seabirds around the world each year, according to the conservation group Birdlife International. Their use has been banned or restricted in many countries territorial waters, and was banned on the high seas in 1992.

In Russia, driftnets are used by Russian and Japanese fishers to capture salmon in the country’s Far East. The ban was reportedly intended in part to make more fish available to Russia’s coastal salmon fishermen, who employ other fishing methods but whose catches have dropped as a result of driftnetting. It will take effect in January, 2016.

Tufted puffins in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The species is commonly caught in driftnet salmon fishing gear in the waters off Russia's far eastern shore. Photo credit: Steve Ebbert, USFWS.

Tufted puffins in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The species is commonly caught in driftnet salmon fishing gear in the waters off Russia’s far eastern shore. Photo credit: Steve Ebbert, USFWS.

BirdLife International estimates that 140,000 seabirds become trapped and die in driftnets each year in the region, the highest toll of any region globally. Heavily hit species include tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata), short-tailed shearwaters (Ardenna tenuirostris), thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia), and crested auklets (Aethia cristatella).

Marine mammals that will benefit from the ban include strikingly marked Dall’s porpoises (Phocoenoides dalli) and ribbon seals (Histriophoca fasciata), as well as Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), according to the group.

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An adult male ribbon seal in eastern Russia's Ozernoy Gulf. Ribbon seals and other marine mammals can become entangled and drown in driftnet fishing gear. Photo credit: Michael Cameron, NOAA/NMFS/AKFSC/NMML.
An adult male ribbon seal in eastern Russia’s Ozernoy Gulf. Ribbon seals and other marine mammals can become entangled and drown in driftnet fishing gear. Photo credit: Michael Cameron, NOAA/NMFS/AKFSC/NMML.

“The banning of these huge nets in Russian waters is fantastic for an array of wildlife in the northwest Pacific and we support the closure of a fishery with such severe collateral damage to marine wildlife,” said Cleo Small, Head of BirdLife’s Marine Programme, in a statement.

“Thick-billed
Thick-billed murres, another seabird species often caught in driftnet salmon-fishing gear in Russia waters. Photo credit: Josh Keaton, NOAA/NMFS/AKRO/SFD.

Other environmental advocates are hailing the ban, as well. “The ban on driftnet fishingl [sic] is a big win for anyone who cares about the conservation of birds, salmon and porpoises in the Russian Far East,” Sergey Korostelev, the Marine Program Coordinator of WWF’s Kamchatka Bering Sea Ecoregional Office, said in a statement. The group has advocated for such a ban for many years.

The ban has reportedly strained relations between Russia and Japan, whose fishermen, particularly from the northern island of Hokkaido, have fished salmon with driftnets in Russian waters since the 1990s.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated last week at a press conference that the law “gives rise to the utmost regret,” according to The Moscow Times. It and other outlets have reported that the ban will cost Japan $200 million.

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Crested Auklets in Russia's Kuril Islands. Photo credit: Austronesian Expeditions.
Crested Auklets in Russia’s Kuril Islands. Photo credit: Austronesian Expeditions.

Article by Rebecca Kessler. Republished courtesy of Mongabay.org.

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Northern Red Sea Reefs and Wrecks Trip Report, Part 2: Wall to Wall Wrecks

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red sea

Jake Davies boards Ghazala Explorer for an unforgettable Red Sea diving experience…

The second day’s diving was a day full of wreck diving at Abu Nuhas, which included the Chrisoula K, Carnatic, and Ghiannis D. The first dive of the day was onto the Chrisoula K, also known as the wreck of tiles. The 98m vessel remains largely intact where she was loaded with tiles which can be seen throughout the hold. The stern sits at 26m and the bow just below the surface. One of the highlights of the wreck is heading inside and seeing the workroom where the machinery used for cutting the tiles are perfectly intact. The bow provided some relaxing scenery as the bright sunlight highlighted the colours of the soft coral reef and the many reef fish.

red sea

Following breakfast, we then headed to the next wreck, which was the Carnatic. The Carnatic is an 89.9m sail steamer vessel that was built in Britain back in 1862. She ran aground on the reef back in 1869 and remains at 27m. At the time, she was carrying a range of items, including 40,000 sterling in gold. An impressive wreck where much of the superstructure remains, and the two large masts lay on the seafloor. The wooden ribs of the hull provide structures for lots of soft corals, and into the stern section, the light beams through, bouncing off the large shoals of glass fish that can be found using the structure as shelter from the larger predators that are found outside of the wreck.

red sea

The final wreck at Abu Nuhas was the Ghiannis D, originally called ‘Shoyo Maru,’ which was 99.5m long and built in Japan back in 1969 before becoming a Greek-registered cargo ship in 1980. The ship then ran aground on the reef on April 19th, 1983, and now sits at the bottom at a depth of 27m. Heading down the line, the stern of the ship remains in good condition compared to the rest of the hull. The highlight of the wreck, though, is heading into the stern section and down the flights of stairs to enter the engine room, which remains in good condition and is definitely worth exploring. After exploring the interior section of the ship, we then headed over to see the rest of the superstructure, where it’s particularly interesting to see the large table corals that have grown at the bow relatively quickly considering the date the ship sank. After surfacing and enjoying some afternoon snacks, we made sure everything was strapped down and secured as we would be heading north and crossing the Gulf of Suez, where the winds were still creating plenty of chop.

red sea

The next morning, it was a short hop to Ras Mohammed Nature Reserve for the next couple of days of diving. The 6am wake-up call came along with the briefing for the first site we would be diving, which was Shark & Yolanda. The low current conditions allowed us to start the dive at Anemone City, where we would drift along the steep, coral-filled wall. These dives involved drifts, as mooring in Ras Mohammed wasn’t allowed to protect the reefs. As a dive site, Shark & Yolanda is well-known and historically had a lot of sharks, but unfortunately not so many in recent years, especially not so early in the season. However, there was always a chance when looking out into the blue.

red sea

The gentle drift took us along the steep walls of the site, with plenty of anemone fish to be seen and a huge variety of corals. It wasn’t long into the dive before we were accompanied by a hawksbill turtle, who drifted with us between the two atolls before parting ways. Between the two reefs, the shallow patch with parts of coral heads surrounded by sand provided the chance to see a few blue-spotted stingrays that were mainly resting underneath the corals and are always a pleasure to see. With this being the morning dive, the early sunlight lit up the walls, providing tranquil moments. Looking out into the blue, there was very little to be seen, but a small shoal of batfish shimmering underneath the sunlight was a moment to capture as we watched them swim by as they watched us.

red sea

Towards the end of the dive, we stopped at the wreck of the Jolanda where the seafloor was scattered with toilets from the containers it was carrying. This provided a unique site to make a safety stop, which was also accompanied by a large barracuda slowly swimming by, along with a hawksbill turtle calmly swimming over the reef as the sun rays danced in the distance.

For the next dive, we headed north to the Strait of Tiran to explore the reefs situated between Tiran Island and Sharm El Sheik, which were named after the British divers who had found them. We started on Jackson before heading to Gordons Reef, where we also did the night dive. All the atolls at these sites provided stunning, bustling coral reefs close to the surface and steep walls to swim along, which always provided the opportunity to keep an eye out for some of the larger species that can be seen in the blue. Midwater around Jackson Reef was filled with red-toothed triggerfish and shoals of banner fish, which at times were so dense that you couldn’t see into the blue. Moments went by peacefully as we enjoyed the slow drift above the reef, watching these shoals swim around under the mid-afternoon sun.

red sea

The night dive at Gordon’s Reef was mainly among the stacks of corals surrounded by sand, which was great to explore under the darkness. After some time circling the corals, we came across what we were really hoping to find, and that was an octopus hunting on the reef. We spent the majority of the dive just watching it crawl among the reef, blending into its changing surroundings through changes in colour and skin texture. It’s always so fascinating and captivating to watch these incredibly intelligent animals, in awe of their ability to carry out these physical changes to perfectly blend into the reef. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the boat to enjoy a well-deserved tasty dinner prepared by the talented chefs onboard.

Check in for the 3rd and final part of this series from Jake tomorrow!

To find out more about the Northern Red Sea reef and wrecks itineraries aboard Ghazala Explorer, or to book, contact Scuba Travel now:

Email: dive@scubatravel.com

Tel: +44 (0)1483 411590

www.scubatravel.com

Photos: Jake Davies / Avalon.Red

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Marine Life & Conservation

Double Bubble for Basking Sharks

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The Shark Trust is excited to announce that, for two more days only, all donations, large or small, will be doubled in the Big Give Green Match Fund!

Donate to Basking in Nature: Sighting Giants

The Shark Trust is hoping to raise £10k which will be doubled to £20k. This will go towards Basking in Nature: Sighting Giants. And they need YOUR help to reach they’re goal.

The Shark Trust’s citizen science project is to monitor and assess basking sharks through sightings; encouraging data collection, community engagement, and promoting nature accessibility. This initiative aims to enhance health and wellbeing by fostering a deeper connection with British Sharks.

Campaign Aims

  • Increase citizen science reporting of Basking Sharks and other shark sightings to help inform shark and ray conservation.
  • Provide educational talks about the diverse range of sharks and rays in British waters and accessible identification guides!
  • Create engaging and fun information panels on how to ID the amazing sharks and rays we have on our doorstep! These can be used on coastal paths around the Southwest. With activities and information on how you can make a difference for sharks and rays!
  • Promote mental wellbeing through increasing time in nature and discovering the wonders beneath the waves!

Donate, and double your impact. Click Here

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Experience the Red Sea in May with Bella Eriny Liveaboard! As the weather warms up, there’s no better time to dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Join us on Bella Eriny, your premier choice for Red Sea liveaboards, this May for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Explore vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs Enjoy comfortable accommodation in our spacious cabins Savor delicious meals prepared by our onboard chef Benefit from the expertise of our professional dive guides Visit our website for more information and to secure your spot: www.scubatravel.com/BellaEriny or call 01483 411590 More Less

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